Friday, June 30, 2006

Lost in information space, with help from Seinfeld

My current usability test project (see The Eagle Has Landed?) is off to a good start -- plan in place, participants scheduled, etc. -- yet it seems that the educational and evangelical process will be ongoing, at least until the results are in.

The overriding concern, as it was explained to me, is "Can customers get the information they need on our site?" I outlined my plan to come up with a set of basic information tasks that would provide insight into this question:

  • Find out the dimensions of the (product)
  • Find out the warranty period for the (product)
  • Find out how much the (product) costs
  • etc.

The email reponse was that these questions didn't address the overriding concern, and that "look for information on the (product)" should suffice as a task: "Most don’t visit a website simply to window shop – but to research (aka “look for information” on) a specific product."

That very day, Gerry McGovern's newsletter provided the diplomatic ammunition I needed to make my case:

Great websites are task-focused. They help people quickly and simply complete boring tasks, such as booking a flight or renewing a driving license. People constantly tell me that they don't have tasks on their website. They say that customers come "looking for information." (This phrase should be banned.)

The more impulsive side of me wanted to say, "Then my job is done before it even starts. We've already got a site that allows customers to look for information. They can be like the Robinson family on "Lost in Space," looking forever for what they're after, without even the benefit of a robot saying WARNING! WARNING! when they head down the wrong path. What we need is a site that allows customers to sucessfully find specific types of information."

It reminded me of the classic Seinfeld moment at the rental car counter: "See, you know how to take the reservation, you just don't know how to hold the reservation. And that's really the most important part of the reservation: the holding. Anybody can just take them."

No one said it was going to be easy.

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